What’s In A Word?

Last week was particularly frustrating.  On two separate occasions someone chose to read more than I typed, and it caused friction.  While not lacking passion, I am generally a literalist.  When I write, I choose my words carefully to convey specific meaning.  I try very hard to say what I mean, and ONLY what I mean.  (Being human I sometimes fail, but I do try!)  Yet people insist on seeing “tone” or subtext in what I write—they read between the lines, see something that isn’t actually there, and somehow manage to conclude that I should be communicating “better”.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you and I are out for a drive on roads neither of us has traveled before.  We have no knowledge of what road goes where or where we will end up.  You are driving.  You are also deaf, and my only means of communicating with you is by typing a note on my tablet and holding it up for you to read.  We come to a fork in the road and you decide to go left.  At the next stop sign (because we’re being safe) I hold up my tablet.  It says: “Why did you go left and not right?”

That is a very simple, straightforward question.  In my mind, it doesn’t need clarification.  It doesn’t need explanation.  I am simply curious as to what, if there is one, was the reason you chose to go left.  Yet there are those who would read that and SEE, somehow, “WTF?! You should have gone RIGHT back there!”

I don’t understand.  Nor do I feel I should have to disclaim statements and inquiries, to wit: “By asking the following question I want you to know that I am in no way critical of your choice to turn left at that fork back there, nor do I think we should have gone the other way.  I am merely curious: Why did you go left and not right?”

Isn’t that ridiculous?  Isn’t that a waste of time both to write and to read?  And yet, I feel that if I don’t start doing that, I’m just in for more of the same.

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One thought on “What’s In A Word?

  1. We’re social primates who can talk. We still depend heavily upon things like body language, tone of voice, and facial gestures to understand what is being communicated. Absent those, no matter how precise the wording, language often remains ambiguous. Also, as social primates, we’re highly attuned to status, and so we constantly assess what is being communicated through that filter. Without the reassurance of body language, etc., we often are inclined to feel threatened.

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